Silver medallist Bernard Kipyego celebrates as he crosses the finish line in Birmingham (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Ras Al Khaimah, UAE

Makau and Keitany top titanic line-up for Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon

Kenyans Patrick Makau and Mary Keitany head a fast and formidable field for the fifth edition of the RAK Half Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Friday (18). 

No less than nine of the elite men’s field have broken 60 minutes over the 21.1Km distance, while the women’s line-up in Ras Al Khaimah includes Keitany, the World record holder over 25km as well as ten other women who’ve run comfortably under 70 minutes.

Makau looking to add to his Half Marathon legacy

Makau, the reigning Berlin Marathon champion, headlines the staggering depth of the men’s field this year. The 25-year-old is the third fastest in history with 58:52 from his second RAK win in February 2009, having won the previous year in 59:35. He opens his 2011 racing campaign after a fabulous 2010 run of form that saw him win the Rotterdam Marathon (2:04:48) in April, followed by his victory in the German capital last September (2:05:08), a brace of wins seldom bettered in one calendar year. He’s warmed up for Rotterdam by winning their Half Marathon in mid-March in 59:51, his eighth time under the one hour barrier - more than anyone in history. There is no reason to believe the two-time IAAF World Half Marathon championship silver medalist (2007 and 2008) won’t add to that tally, or improve on the astonishing average of his ten best Half Marathons - 59:26!

The best of the other eight men under one hour is Kenyan Bernard Kipyego whose fourth place showing in the 2009 Rotterdam Half (59:10) puts him eleventh on the all-time list. With ‘only’ four performances below the 60 minute barrier, compared with Makau the 24-year-old is a novice of course, but as a member of the exclusive ‘sub-27 minute club’ for a track 10,000m, the 2009 World Half Marathon championships silver medallist is likely to be formidable in the closing stages.

Behind this big pairing against the clock can be added several more luminaries such as Ethiopian Deriba Merga with his 59:15 to boast atop his six sub-one hour Half Marathon efforts which include two third places at RAK (2007 & 2009). This prolific 28-year-old racer had a difficult 2010, dropping out of both the Chicago and Chunchon Marathons just a fortnight apart last October. If his all too evident impatience in races can be reigned in, a return to form from this enigmatic late-starter could produce yet more plaudits.

Wilson Chebet of Kenya, with his 59:15 from 2009 and a 2:06:12 second place in Amsterdam last October, will be a factor, as will another Kenyan John Kiprotich with a 59:23 from Rotterdam 2009 - the 23-year-old was only 9th in RAK last year and will aim to place significantly better. After his third place last year at RAK (59:51 PB) Titus Masai (KEN) will be optimistic of going better. His form in the Delhi Half Marathon late last November (6th in 1:00:38) shows that the fast time achieved there in hot humid conditions can be bettered in RAK. Throw in Tanzanian Dickson Marwa (59:52), Getu Feleke (59:56) of Ethiopia and Kenyan Leonard Langat (59:56), and the mix in the RAK men’s race this coming Friday will clearly be a toxic mix of flat out running and cool judgment on the long home straight.

Keitany over her best distance? - Women's race

For their part, the women promise perhaps even more. Keitany has built a reputation as a shrewd and frighteningly consistent racer, seldom losing or running slow times. The 2009 World Half Marathon champion has broken 1:07 three times and the average of her best ten half marathons is a scintillating 1:07:57. Having dipped her toe in to the deep waters of the full Marathon in New York last November (3rd in 2:29:01), she returns to her favored distance with a possible shot at Lornah Kiplagat's 1:06:25 World record and with good reason - the 29-year-old Keitany is the second fastest in history with 1:06:36 from the Birmingham World Half Marathon championships in October 2009. After RAK, her next stop is the London Marathon on 25 April.

Second in last year’s RAK Half Marathon, Ethiopia’s 21-year-old Mare Dibaba has already shown formidable Marathon form (2:25:27 for fifth in Frankfurt last October) to go with her Half Marathon speed. Her 1:07:13 at RAK 2010 behind Turkey’s Elvan Abeylegesse put her and the diminutive Abeylegesse as the two fastest women over the distance last year. With Abeylegesse, the European 10,000m champion, having pulled out from RAK some weeks ago, Dibaba will fancy her chances this time round.

Not to be discounted are other East Africans including Ethiopian Dire Tune, the 2009 RAK Half champion, who can also display that precious blend of speed (1:07:18 for that RAK win) and strength (runner-up at the Frankfurt Marathon last October in 2:23:44). Her compatriot Aberu Kebede, winner of the Berlin Marathon last September in 2:23:58 and a 1:07:39 Half Marathon performer, also brings strong credentials. One athlete who could set the cat amongst the pigeons is French Record Holder Christelle Daunay (1:08:34) who with a second place showing at the Paris Marathon last April (NR 2:24:22) enjoyed her best year yet and is one of the few Europeans to be able to ‘mix it’ with the top Africans.

Others to watch are Hilda Kibet (NED - 1:08:40), Agnes Kirop (KEN - 1:08:48), Hungary's Aniko Kalovics (1:08:58), Rose Kosgei (1:09:03), Joyce Chepkirui (KEN - 1:09:25) and Eunice Kales (1:09:50).

Organisers for the IAAF